My dream of a Provencal scholar made me think of this, which I have managed to ignore for a number of years. Or perhaps the word is “scuttle away from.” It is something that matters to me because I am insane, and you have to be sane to make a living; both are very hard work and I fake it the best I can.
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries along the Southern territories of Europe there was a great infatuation with what has sometimes been called Dualism, implying a belief in two equal and feuding powers of Good and Evil, under the rubric of Catharism or Waldensianism or Bogomil, depending on your location. Actually it is a bit more nuanced than that, as the Cathar Christians rejected the overt God vs. Satan conflict and, as best we can understand it, believed the world we live in to be the creation of an egotistical lesser deity with a narcissistic personality disorder. (William Blake called him “Old Nobodaddy.”) There is a bit of a Buddhist riff in there and perhaps some eastern-wandering Buddhist missionaries affected the Cathar outlook. It is really hard to know what the Cathars thought because, having decided that the Pope of Rome was simply a representative of an NPD demiurge and spurning the various sacraments and other Catholic rackets, the Cathars, or Albigenses, were put to fire and sword and their lands seized, lest the whole Papal empire be undermined by people who refused to believe they needed absolution from Roman priests or Church marriages. (Pretty much everyone has heard of the Spanish Inquisition but fewer people realize that the original Inquisition was invented in reaction to the Cathar heresy.)
Assorted soldiers of fortune, some of English extraction in the fine old Briton tradition of Fucking With The Frogs, assisted the Papal movement to stomp the heretics into the ground. Joan of Arc, my first amazon hero, hailed from a part of France that had been suffused with Catharism only a handful of decades before. Troubadours and the whole vaguely profane yet Tantric tradition of Courtly Love were invented there. Centuries later the same districts, contrarian still, formed the backbone of the French Resistance in World War II.
Catharism has become sexy since the 1980s when I originally read about it. These days people tromp through Carcassonne and probably up every trail near Montsegur where the Albigeois made their last stand. I have been thoroughly creeped out, albeit fascinated, by assertions that the mystical underpinnings of Nazism can be traced directly to Gnostic Catharism. The Cathars were not around to repudiate their sponsorship on that occasion though the Catholic Church, which spent most of the time looking the other way, probably appreciated having someone else to take the rap.
Tradition has it that the first time anyone said “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out” was during the Albigensian Crusade.
So far as I can grasp it, the Cathars were pretty good Buddhists, refusing to eat animals (other than, oddly, fish) and insisting that the world, and worldly power, were illusory. Arthur Guirdham, an M.D. shrink for the British National Health, maintained that he had retrieved group memories of past incarnations as Cathari in a cluster of his patients and himself, and asserted that they practiced healing by the laying on of hands (in imitation of the Apostles). As a vegetarian massage therapist I feel rather at home, assuming Guirdham wasn’t merely barking mad. And then there’s Esclarmonde d’Alion.
She just pops up here and there in the stories. Esclarmonde seems to have been a popular name — one of the most prominent Cathars was Esclarmonde Countess of Foix, who debated some papal legates to a standstill at one point — but d’Alion was supposed to have been “a bastard” and a military adventurer of uncertain morals, who spent her adult years campaigning against the Papal and English invaders. Reputedly a redhead. I like that.
Seven or eight hundred years later we still live in a world where people murder each other over the question of who has the real Imaginary Friend(s).
I tried to jam all this into the backstory of a historical novel about World War II, back in the day. It collapsed under its own weight, but now and then I wonder if there’s life in it.